Social media used as a ‘conveyor belt for child abuse images’

NSPCC figures show production and sharing of child abuse images soar in recent years.

Social media used as a ‘conveyor belt for child abuse images’ SanderStock via iStock
Offences relating to possessing, taking, making and distributing child abuse material in Scotland peaked last year.

Social media is being used as a “conveyor belt” to produce and share child abuse images on an “industrial scale”, the NSPCC has said as it revealed more than 3000 images had been recorded by Police Scotland in the last five years.

The child protection charity said tech companies had failed to protect children using their services and the only option was for the Online Safety Bill to be strengthened.

But Andy Burrows, NSPCC’s head of child safety online policy, told STV News the draft bill needed to be fixed if it was going to prevent harm to kids.

“We’ve reached the point where it’s very clear, it couldn’t be clearer, that self-regulation is not going to keep our children safe,” he said.

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“We have seen grooming, we have seen the production and sharing of child abuse images soar in recent years, as our figures… underline.

Mr Burrows set out five specific ways that the NSPCC believes avoidable harm could be prevented.

The charity called for:

– More required risk assessments by firms to spot cross-platform activity and disrupt grooming pathways

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– Measures to stop abusers organising online

– Firms to have a named manager in charge of child safety

– More powers for the regulator to combat abuse in private messaging

– A statutory body to represent the interests of children

Figures obtained from Police Scotland showed offences relating to possessing, taking, making and distributing child abuse material in Scotland peaked at 660 last year – up 13% from 2019/20.

The crimes peaked sharply during the pandemic, with an increase of 13.4% in online abuse between April and December 2020 compared with the previous year.

“This is a problem that continues to get worse, and the tech companies just really sit on their hands when it comes to the problem of child safety,” Mr Burrows said.

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“But very few of the tech platforms are willing to step up and meet their clear moral responsibility to protect children using their services.

“It’s only if we see really strong, effective legislation on the statute book that we can see children once and for all be safe and entitled to the safe time online that they deserve.”

Online safety organisation the Internet Watch Foundation published data showing the amount of child sexual abuse material being found online by expert analysts is 15 times higher than a decade ago earlier this month.

The NSPCC has called on the UK culture secretary Nadine Dorries to take the opportunity to strengthen the Online Safety Bill to disrupt the production and spread of child abuse material on social media.  

A report by MPs who scrutinised the draft Bill is expected next week.